In our modern lifestyle, where we do more with less and are constantly striving for the best, stress has become a fact of life. It is no wonder modern disease is becoming an epidemic. We accept these stressors as a part of our daily lives. And yet, we don’t know how to identify and manage this stress before it begins affecting our health.
Even if you don’t feel stressed, chances are the mental and physical aspects are taking their toll. Learn the warning signs of stress and how to manage them in this month’s Wellness Roundup: Identifying and Managing Stress.
WELLNESS ROUNDUP: IDENTIFYING AND MANAGING STRESS
WHAT IS STRESS?
When we are faced with a challenge or threat, our body reacts before our consciousness. Our nervous and adrenal systems shift into overdrive and release stress hormones, specifically epinephrine, cortisol, and adrenaline. The fight or flight reaction is automatically switched on.
In certain situations, this response can save us. If you were faced with a danger, such as getting mugged, you need this fight response to ward off your attacker. Adrenaline infuses your senses, and your perception, physical strength, and acuity are heightened.
While these reactions are helpful in a true danger situation, they are not helpful when our system is responding to everyday stressors, and responding often.
DEFINING CHRONIC STRESS
Chronic stress comes into play when you are in a constant state of fight or flight. Your mind and body are reacting to stress almost daily, and they don’t have a chance to calm down.
All of this and more is why chronic stress is one of the most dangerous, and unfortunately common, disorders we face today.
IDENTIFYING CHRONIC STRESS
Often times, it isn’t until our well-being really beings to suffer that we take notice. Additionally, we often misdiagnose stress, since its symptoms are easily confused with other conditions. Or, we assume stress is an acceptable part of life and thus not serious. How then do you identify stress? Let’s look at the two most common methods.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the following are a few examples of mental and physical stress signals.
MENTAL SIGNS OF STRESS
Poor memory and cognition. Such as feeling forgetful and having a hard time concentrating.
Depression and negative thinking.
Changes in mood. Such as moodiness, irritability, and anger.
Anxiety, nervousness, and constantly worrying.
Racing thoughts, and tired but wired. Such as inability to focus, concentrate, and your mind feeling awake even when tired.
Poor judgment and decision-making. Such as making bad choices and being easily distracted.
Physical Signs of Stress
Changes in digestion and appetite. Such as signs of IBS, nausea, and indigestion, or eating too much/too little.
Change in sleeping habits. Such as oversleeping but still feeling tired, or inability to sleep.
Nervous habits and behavior. Such as nail-biting, twitching, fiddling, teeth grinding, and pacing.
Muscle aches or stiffness, and chest pain. Such as stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and back.
Low sex drive, general loss of motivation, and fatigue.
Frequent or recurring illness. Such as colds, viruses, and infections.
Increased dependence on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or food.
Obsessive behavior and developing new fears. Such as the feeling that everything is scary and overwhelming, irrational fears of uncontrollable circumstances.
It is important to pay attention to the signals your mind and body are telling you. If you notice any of these symptoms or a combination of them, make it a priority to address them before things get worse.
One of the most important factors to remember about stress is that it is how each individual responds to mental and physical challenges. The challenge itself may not necessary be harmful, but if we react in a harmful way, stress can break us down.
In order to improve your reaction to stress, you can follow a few helpful tips and tricks.
Determine your personal tolerance to specific challenges. Everyone responds to stress differently and has a very different reaction to the same situation. For instance, one person doesn’t mind sitting in traffic, while another will arrive at home in an extremely stressed state. Make note of your personal triggers, then work on managing them one at a time.
Understand the difference between pressure and stress, and how to prevent your worries from transforming into chronic stress.
Change your outlook. Learning to identify stress and how you will handle it before it fully sets in will train your mind and body how to react. Visualize a challenge and how you will manage it.
Incorporate exercise. Again, this should be tailored to your specific needs and physical limitations, but any form of exercise will improve your mental and physical body.
Practice mindfulness. Many find meditation is extremely helpful for stress management. If this isn’t for you, try positive thinking, taking time for yourself, doing something you enjoy every day, and surround yourself with a supportive group of friends and family.
Eat Real Whole Foods. What you eat can improve or hinder the effects of stress. As we discussed in our post all about Inflammation, certain foods can lead to internal and external stress.
Avoid perfectionism. We cannot do it all, and it will do us all some good to accept this. An attitude of never being good enough promotes stress and prevents us from ever being content.
Learn to embrace change and take things in stride. This one is difficult, but can be improved with practice. Practice letting go of unimportant circumstances, and controlling your emotional response.
For a comprehensive list of 50 Signs and Symptoms of Stress, and a breakdown of how stress affects each system in the body, visit the American Institute of Stress.
HelpGuide.org provides a thorough workbook for stress including its causes, effects, and treatments.
Mayo Clinic outlines how to identify your individual stressors.
Try creating a stress journal to help you document and identify stressors, such as this template by Mind Tools